Polish Classic Desserts – just like Babcia used to make!

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Pineapple bars

My babcia (grandmother) hailed from Zwierzyniec, Poland, and my great-grandmother happened to be a cook for wealthy Polish families. I fondly remember my grandmother making delicious sweet yeast breads (raisin, cheese, poppyseed and nut), plum dumplings with a sour cream sauce, crepes with raisins, coffeecakes, and cheesecakes. She would bake with cake yeast and farmer’s cheese, making the recipes by feel. One of the great tragedies is that she never wrote down her Polish recipes; I inherited several boxes full of recipes she’d clipped from magazines and newspapers, but never found her recipes for the many wonderful baked goods and Polish comfort food. I have spent the last several years looking for a Polish baking book that would recapture my childhood memories of my babcia’s baking, and finally found one in Polish Classic Desserts.

Peter Zeranski comes from a well-known name in Polish cuisine; his mother, Alina Zeranska, wrote Art of Polish Cooking, The, still in print after more than 40 years and the first Polish cookbook I ever owned. Peter and Laura Zeranski’s previous cookbook, Polish Classic Recipes (Classics Series), was a taste of home for anyone who grew up in a Polish household; staples like barszcz, zurek, bigos, golabki and pierogi (both sweet and savory) were rounded out with traditional sweets like szarlotka (apple squares), babka, poppy seed rolls, and chrusciki (commonly called angel wings), a traditional fried dough served on holidays.

Polish Classic Desserts, the sequel to Polish Classic Recipes, provides a wealth of additional Polish baked goods: mazurkas, babkas, cookies, tortes and cakes, pastries and specialty desserts with very little overlap from the first cookbook, making it the perfect companion. Like the first book, it is accessible and a joy to cook from, illustrated with gorgeous full-color photos for each dish. Scattered throughout the book are traditional Polish papercuts (wycinanki), Polish pottery and painted wooden Easter eggs.

Polish Classic Desserts enabled me to recreate the wonderful smells and tastes of babcia’s kitchen, including kolaczki (these are NOT the same as the Czech kolaches that are staples in Texas; rather, Polish kolaczkis are a rich, flaky cookie with a jam filling) and Polish cheesecake. Fans of yeast breads will find much to rejoice in; there are some unusual babkas such as the saffron baba, enriched with citrus, raisins, and dark rum, as well as my beloved poppy seed rolls. The Fat Tuesday staple paczki, deep-fried jelly doughnuts, make an appearance, as do several other holiday confections like apple raisin cake, holiday gingerbread cake, and harvest cake. Another discovery was the pineapple and walnut bars; I’d fallen in love with a similar version in Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered and Collected by the Queens of Comfort Food(TM) that used a combination of canned and dried pineapple, but the dried pineapple always seemed too sweet (and too hard). Here the combination of crushed pineapple and a lovely flaky dough make these the perfect breakfast (or anytime) treat.

Some of the stories behind the baked goods were especially poignant; I loved reading about how Peter’s mother grew her own wedding bouquet and baked her own wedding cake (having never baked before); the staged photo of the finished cake very closely mirrored the photo of his mother’s homemade wedding cake on the opposite page. There is also a papal cream cake dedicated to Pope John Paul II; his offhand reminiscence of a boyhood treat sparked a renewed interest in the kremowki (which is basically a napoleon).

Polish Classic Desserts offers nearly 50 recipes that will appeal to everyone; in addition to classic Polish yeast breads, cakes, and pastries, you’ll find comforting bread puddings, elegant tortes, and a handful of adult beverages to round out the festive offerings. This is a beautiful tribute to the baking of our Polish grandmothers and deserves to be in your cookbook collection!

Pineapple bars
Pineapple bars

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